Leading a diverse team with many different viewpoints and perspectives can be very challenging for any leader. We know the best decisions usually involve some type of compromise or consensus opinion, but is that always the soundest way to lead? Are there times when leaders might not be able to use a consensus vote or even deliberately avoid a consensus tally? In fact, are certain decisions made more effectively without consensus? The answer is most definitely “yes” and here are some reasons why and ways to go about leading when a leader decides against consensus.
We need to make a quick decision: In the workplace, it is sometimes necessary to respond quickly. We might need to switch around certain tasks for our teams or move in a different direction fairly quickly to avoid a catastrophe, so getting a consensus is not practical. We might wish we could poll everyone, but that won’t work. Time is of the essence.
The decision is based on confidential information: Although we believe in transparency, sometimes we have confidential facts that may impact a choice. Working with a client recently, the senior leadership decided to launch a new performance appraisal system that would only be around for one year. HR professionals were not brought into the decision making because they did not know a merger was about to happen.
The decision will have low impact on the team: Sometimes leaders need to act decisively about a choice that might affect some team members but must be made. In one organization I partnered, the team leader needed to reschedule a series of meetings and presentations for the team. Although various individuals might have preferred input to the changes, it was not critical for a consensus vote.
We strongly believe in a controversial vision: A leader may want to passionately launch an initiative that they know may face roadblocks from their team. With that in mind, a leader must be able to persuade their team members to take a chance on a particular project or dream. Although there will be no voting, it is essential to explain why we want to journey down a particular path. We need to listen to the discussion, questions and concerns, but not necessarily have a consensus of moving forward.
In all these situations a leader will only be successful if they communicate clearly and make their case sufficiently. Although we may not ask for a consensus, we owe it to our team to be honest and ethical. Whenever possible eliciting buy-in from our teams is the way to go for the most success.
What situations have you been in that you were unable to get a consensus? What are your thoughts on the need for consensus?